It’s midnight in Paris, and I am slumped against the wall of an apartment building stairwell. I try to stay awake enough to hear the front door of the building open. When it does, I pop up, walking up or down the stairs as though I have a purpose. I don’t want the residents to be alarmed by the homeless American loitering in the hallway.
My eyelids flutter. My body is ready for sleep – the hours of walking have hit me suddenly. Without the excitement of the city, my energy level plummets. As I yearn for sleep, I am reminded that I am lucky simply to be inside the building.
About an hour and a half earlier, I was happily wandering the streets of Paris, lost in the lights, the people, the activity. I had come from a Democrats Abroad in France meeting. The nominated delegates from this group of American ex-pats shared their experiences at the Democratic Convention, reflecting on the speeches, the atmosphere and the outlook of the coming Presidential election. I was grateful for updates on politics back home, particularly as each European I meet seems eager for information on the subject. While I was at the meeting, my Parisian host went out to dinner with friends. He is supposed to text or call when he is headed back to the apartment – at this point, I am to do the same.
I reach for my phone and turn it on. In about ten minutes, the battery level drops from low to dangerously low. I spend the next 30 minutes turning the phone off and on again to check for messages, trying to conserve as much life as possible. Nothing. Just as I am texting Nicolas to ask when I should meet him, my phone dies. I see no reason to panic. I will simply take the metro to his apartment at a time when I am sure he will be back from dinner. As I realize the caveat to this plan, my heart begins to race.
Every Parisian apartment building requires a code to get into the front door of the building. Once you are inside, you can buzz up to whomever you are visiting. I have stored Nicolas’ code in my phone – the phone that has now lost all power. I take a hard swallow. I must reach the building before he does and wait outside for him, else I will be utterly unable to reach him. I run to the metro and jump on the first train.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to picture the small keypad outside Nicolas’ home. I reach for the St. Christopher’s medallion around my neck – patron saint of travelers. Suddenly, my lips form four numbers. I can only hope that these are the numbers that will keep me off the streets for the night. I spend the rest of the train ride repeating them to myself.
The French voice on the loudspeaker announces my stop. I step onto the platform and walk towards the exit, all the while hoping I will see Nicolas ahead of me. He is not there. I walk the two blocks to the apartment, open the keypad, and slowly punch in the numbers. A wonderful green light signals that I have indeed remembered the correct code. My body relaxes, and I push open the door. I have a home for the night.